“My body is on fire.”
The message blinked onto my phone in the middle of Christine Blasey Ford’s testimony before the Senate Judiciary Committee last week. It came from a rape survivor I interviewed during the 2016 election season, when women were literally becoming ill from watching a man who had bragged on tape about grabbing women “by the pussy” ascend relatively unscathed to the presidency.
Twenty percent U.S. households tuned in to watch Ford describe what was probably the worst moment of her life, when, she said, two boys laughed uproariously and turned up the music to drown out her screams while one tried to force himself on her. Women openly cried on the subway as they listened to the testimony on their headphones. I realized halfway through the hearing that my teeth were sore from clenching.
As a sexual assault survivor, I pictured myself sitting in front of a callous Sen. Chuck Grassley (R-Iowa) and being grilled on live television by a female prosecutor he had hired because he didn’t know how to talk to me. I thought about what it would feel like for my rapist to become a Supreme Court justice ― and to replace the swing vote on my most intimate rights.
Ford did the best she could under those circumstances and was, by nearly all accounts, extremely credible. The most cynical Republicans had to admit that they at least believed she had been assaulted, and even Donald Trump called her a “very credible witness.” It’s just that no matter what she said or how credible she seemed, her story had no effect on their desire to confirm Brett Kavanaugh to the highest court in the land. The spectacle was a pointless charade. A woman annihilated herself before the country so that a handful of Republicans could pretend they cared what she had to say.
And so women let out a collective primal scream. Women in their 50s, 60s, 70s began calling into C-SPAN — dry, sober C-SPAN — to announce to the world that they, too, had been sexually assaulted decades earlier. Rape survivors angrily confronted politicians in elevators and hallways demanding to be heard, driving one Republican senator to hide in a bathroom. The sharing of stories became so compulsive, so casual, that a cab driver of mine, a woman from Trinidad, volunteered two minutes into a ride that she had been raped twice by a diplomat.
I asked if she tried to report the assaults, and she laughed. “Please, they don’t even believe white women,” she said. “Why would they believe me?”
On Saturday the Senate will likely confirm to the Supreme Court the kind of man many women have known or dated at some point in our lives ― the wealthy, entitled frat boy who cries, shouts and lies when you confront him with his behavior, because he has rarely had to face a consequence in his life. And that man will be the deciding vote on major abortion cases, potentially blocking access to the procedure for generations of women.
It seemed as if something had changed since the 2016 election. Women got angry, and they poured out their stories, and they mined their pain on social media, and they got up in politicians’ faces and begged to be heard. Nationwide polls after Ford’s testimony showed that more than half of U.S. women surveyed said they opposed Kavanaugh’s nomination and fewer than a third said they supported it.
Republicans pretended to listen to them. Sen. Jeff Flake (R-Ariz.) called for a limited FBI investigation shortly after being confronted by sexual assault survivors in an elevator, and he and Sen. Susan Collins (R-Maine) made a show of being undecided up until the last minute. But ultimately, all of the party’s unease with the Me Too movement coalesced around the figure of poor, put-upon rich white guy Brett Kavanaugh. A line was being drawn. He was not going to be another guy who went down for a 30-year-old claim, no matter how credible the witness or how many lies he told under oath or how many more people came forward to support her claims.
Somehow, Republican men assumed the mantle of victimhood. Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (Ky.) decried the “physical intimidation” of members of Congress by women. Trump lamented that “it’s a scary time for young men” but said that young women are “doing great.”
The government cupped its hands over women’s mouths and turned the music up.